Saturday, February 26, 2011

Advertising to Children: Geo Girl Make-up


Does an eight-year-old girl need an anti-aging face cream? WalMart thinks so.

Geo Girl is a line of "natural make-up and skin care" in recyclable containers. The target users: girls eight to twelve, also known as "tweens." The products were scheduled to launch in WalMart stores this week but have not yet appeared on the shelves.

Make-up for kids is just a slight modification of a phenomenon started with the 2006 make-up line from Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen. It was successfully marketed for teens although it also proved to have pre-teen appeal. But the twins extraordinaire have grown up and refocused on a fashion empire, and their followers are now all old enough to pop for "real" make-up. Marketers needed to move on, but this time why not include an even larger group of potential customers who already spend about $24 million per year on make-up? Most of this tween money is spent on lip gloss, eye shadow and mascara. According to an ABC News report, mascara use in that age group increased from 10% to 18% in 2009.

The report has much more to say on the subject of young girls and make-up, including concerns about skin damage from inappropriate use of exfoliators on youthful faces and possible psychological damage from pressure to be beautiful and sexy at an age when those demands are premature. You can watch the entire 6-minute video in the link, but here's one obvious conclusion:
"We are raising another generation of girls who kind of measure their self-worth based on what's on the outside," Dr. Logan Levkoff, author of the book Third Base Ain't What it Used to Be said to "Good Morning America."
Make-up is just part of the challenge. Young girls are confronted daily with advertising and media input that insists that they should be concerned with how they look. The NYU Child Study Center offers this disturbing information in an article entitled "How to Raise Girls with Healthy Self-Esteem:"
  • Eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression are the most common mental health problems in girls. 
  • 59% of 5–12th grade girls in one survey were dissatisfied with their body shape.
  • 20–40% of girls begin dieting at age 10.
  • By 15, girls are twice as likely to become depressed than boys.
  • Among 5–12th graders, 47% said they wanted to lose weight because of magazine pictures.
  • Health risks accompany girls' drop in self-esteem due to risky eating habits, depression, and unwanted pregnancy.
  • Girls aged 10 and 12 are confronted with "teen" issues such as dating and sex, at increasingly earlier ages. 73% of 8–12–year-olds dress like teens and talk like teens.
  • 20–40% of girls begin dieting at age 10.
  • By 15, girls are twice as likely to become depressed than boys.
  • Among 5–12th graders, 47% said they wanted to lose weight because of magazine pictures.
  • Health risks accompany girls' drop in self-esteem due to risky eating habits, depression, and unwanted pregnancy.  
  • Girls aged 10 and 12 are confronted with "teen" issues such as dating and sex, at increasingly earlier ages. 73% of 8–12–year olds dress like teens and talk like teens.
The countermeasures to all these sad statistics are in the hands of parents. There's a list of specific suggestions in the report (such as open communication about the issues, good role modelling, avoiding stereotyping), but the conclusion is:
"It is within the family that a girl first develops a sense of who she is and who she wants to become. Parents armed with knowledge can create a psychological climate that will enable each girl to achieve her full potential." 
Make-up for children is more than a consumer issue; it's an ethical issue. But how young is too young to wear it? I was surprised to learn that some parents don't find Geo Girl products objectionable. And, for the record, WalMart marketers have said that they'll be targeting the parents, not the kids, offering the make-up as a "green" alternative. Somehow that seems as disingenuous as toy manufacturers saying they target parents with their advertising.

I can't imagine the pressures that little girls feel today to be sexy. It seems such a sad loss of innocence and childhood years that should be enjoyed without that kind of burden. I'm not a parent, so I'd be interested to hear your thoughts. I'll try to keep an open mind, but I don't think anyone will be able to convince me that an eight-year old needs anti-aging cream.

© 2011 Cynthia Friedlob
Image credit: Sonia Castro at StockXchng

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am a mother of three ( two which are girls ). I personal am very excited that they finally have a all natural make up for children or tweens. One of my daughters has a birthmark on her cheek and it is very hard for her to deal with. She was so excited when she seen they had a concealer which she could use and also have a child save make up remover and toner which my other daughter just started using because she is prone to break outs under the cheek bone area. I have not seen the anti-aging foundation, but I'm sure its just a name to make the girls feel grown and not an actually used for anti-aging. I hope Wal-Mart continues to care this line, because products today are just not make for the sensitivity of children and tween's today. We are really enjoying our new Geo-girl products!

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Anonymous: Thank you for providing your perspective on these products.

Liz said...

I see no problem with it. It's up to the parents whether or not they let their children use them. And they don't have to be for tweens/children. I thought they looked cool and good quality, plus their eco-friendly and natural, so I looked at them. I bought a couple things for myself and would like to get more, but my mum was buying and I didn't want to ask for a lot. I'm fifteen, and use "real" makeup, but absolutely LOVE this idea of natural, cheaper, nice quality makeup! Kind of annoying that so many people are saying to boycott the line and stuff. Just because its targeted to tweens doesn't mean thats the only people who can buy it, or that they HAVE to use it!

Cynthia Friedlob said...

You're quite right, Liz, that the products can be used by anyone. And I hope you're right about parents having some say in the matter, too! But the disturbing issue for many people is the idea that a ten-year-old girl should be considered a "target market" for a product as mature as make-up. It would be preferable, I think, to allow little girls to have a childhood before foisting on them all the social pressures and anxieties they'll have to deal with soon enough in their teen-age years.